I will rarely refuse a free meal, which is how I wound up this evening at the La Mesa Ocean Grille for dinner. My mother had read Wolfgang's column in last Thursday's U/T which mentioned that the Ocean Grille now had $9.95 dinner specials Sunday - Thursday. Since she had a contractor coming over at 6 PM this evening, she bribed me to be there by dangling the aforementioned free dinner in front of my taste buds.
We arrived shortly before 7 PM. The entire parking lot was full. Kind of unusual for a Monday night at a restaurant not located near much of anything. The restaurant and front patio were about 2/3 - 3/4 occupied. They were busy, but not swamped, and certainly not slammed. We were seated right away and asked for a drink order, which arrived quickly. 10 mintues passed before the waitress arrived to take an order. My mother questioned her about the $9.95 special, which is not listed on the menu, but is basically any of their char-broiled fresh fish, except the Halibut. When my mother hesitated in ordering, the waitress said she'd give us another couple of minutes to decide. A couple of minutes turned into 5, stretched into 10 and finally after 15 minutes we snagged a non-English speaking kitchen staff person who happened to be headed past our table.
I had the snapper, my mother had the (Mexican) sea bass. You can have your fish blackened, with lemon-butter or teriyaki. We both chose lemon-butter. The meal comes with soup or salad, vegetables and potato. We both had the white clam chowder. After another terminal wait, the chowder arrived. It was very good. I was really p*ssed off about the slow service by this point and really, really wanted to hate the chowder. I couldn't. It was soft, comforting and smooth with a nice buttery flavor accented with a hint of thyme. I'd go back for a bigger bowl of the clam chowder. Another plus for this chowder was that it was served HOT, not lukewarm, not tepid, but hot.
The soup was supposed to come with sour dough rolls. They were in the oven, so we got oyster crackers instead. The rolls finally did make it to the table, quite literally right out of the oven. They were so hot you could still see the steam rising off of them, and they were way too hot to handle without burning the tips of your fingers. The crust was pale, and the inside somewhat doughy because the bread was too hot, but I'll give them an E for effort in getting hot bread to the table.
Only being slightly assuaged, I really, really wanted to hate the entrees too. My snapper was nicely charred, very slightly crispy on the edges, but still moist in the interior. The plates were nicely presented, someone HAD taken the time with them in the kitchen. The vegetables were the semi-ubiquitious broccoli with a julienne of both zucchini and carrots. Grated parmesan is offered tableside as a topping for the veggies in much the same way as cracked pepper is offered for salads. It was a nice touch and really added, especially, to the zucchini. Red potatoes that had been steamed and halved rounded out the plate. The lemon-butter sauce was nice, light and did not overpower either the snapper or the sea bass, which also was not overcooked.
We skipped dessert because it was now becoming alarmingly late and the sun had long set over the horizon. It took the check many more minutes to arrive and once again we had to flag someone down in order to get the credit card processed. And by this time there was one couple left on the patio and on other table inside occupied.
The food was good, the service was HORRID. I don't know if they had back of the house service issues or what, but they certainly gave new meaning to the term SLUGgish. Additionally, unless you like overly loud Italian opera, conversation can be difficult. Mercifully, about half-way through this meal ordeal, they switched from opera to Frank Sinatra, making the listening much easier on the ears.
The food is pretty respectable, especially for this part of the city, I can only hope that they get whatever their service problems were worked out.
The La Mesa Ocean Grille is located on Lake Murry Blvd., 2-3 miles north of Interstate 8. If you get to Baltimore Dr., you've gone too far.